Opera in four parts
Composer Giuseppe Verdi · Libretto by Temistocle Solera
In Italian with German and English surtitles
Cast for all dates
Jerusalem and Babylon at the time of Neubchadnezzar around 578 B.C. were the setting of Verdi’s early work, Nabucco. But the Biblical epic about power, love and religion is certainly more than a mere historical drama that might have served as a Hollywood blockbuster, and which places the most stringent demands on the soloists, chorus and stage machinery. Human conflicts are expressed here in highly emotional music and leave an indelible mark, to the present day, on this first, genuinely major operatic success by composer Giuseppe Verdi. Nabucco, the work with the famous prisoners’ chorus “Va pensiero” (“Fly, thought, on golden wings!”), the best-known hymn to freedom ever composed, is a must – and not just for Verdi fans.
Part One: Jerusalem
In the Temple of Jerusalem the Hebrews are praying to their God to protect them from the Babylonian king Nabucco and his army. Zaccaria, the high priest, urges his people to place their trust in God, telling them that Fenena, Nabucco’s younger daughter, could bring about peace. Out of her love for him, Fenena had once freed Ismaele, the nephew of the Jewish king, from imprisonment in Babylon, and had fled with him to become a hostage among the Hebrews. Nabucco’s elder daughter Abigaille infiltrates the Temple with her warriors, disguised as Jews. She also loves Ismaele and is prepared to spare his people if he returns her affections. But Ismaele turns her down. A triumphant Nabucco appears. In order to prevent the desecration of the Temple, Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenena – but Ismaele liberates his beloved. Nabucco, Abigaille and the Babylonian warriors take revenge. Zaccaria and the entire Jewish people curse the traitor Ismaele.
Part Two: The Unbeliever
Back in Babylon, Abigaille finds a document that reveals her true origins. She is the daughter of a slave, meaning that Fenena is actually the lawful heiress to the throne. Nabucco has already appointed Fenena as regent while he is away in the wars. The high priest of Baal reports to Abigaille that Fenena intends to release the abducted Hebrew captives who have been brought to Babylon. The high priest and his co-conspirators plan to crown Abigaille, and to this end spread the rumour that Nabucco has fallen in battle.
Zaccaria prays to God to support him in his plan to convert Fenena. The Levites assemble and are intransigent towards Ismaele. Zaccaria and his sister Anna plead with them to forgive Ismaele. When Fenena hears that Nabucco has fallen and that Abigaille is now planning to become Queen, she decides to punish the Babylonian rebels. With the support of the high priest, Abigaille demands the crown from Fenena. Nabucco, now generally believed dead, returns and insists that from now on he be not only be revered as king, but worshipped as a god. A flash of lightning punishes this display of hubris and Nabucco loses his senses. Abigaille crowns herself.
Part Three: The Prophecy
Abigaille’s subjects are paying homage to her. In the name of the people, the high priest demands the execution of the Hebrews and the converted Fenena. Abigaille obtains consent for the death sentence from her insane father – Nabucco finds out too late that he has also condemned Fenena to death. Abigaille destroys the evidence of her lowly origins and has Nabucco thrown in jail. The Jews lament their captivity. Zaccaria prophesies the downfall of Babylon and tells the Jews that they will soon be able to return to their home.
Part Four: The Shattered Idol
Fenena and the Jews are being led to the execution site. In his despair Nabucco prays to Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews. His madness leaves him. Accompanied by his loyal followers, Nabucco liberates the condemned captives. He orders the idol of Baal to be destroyed, but at his words it shatters into pieces. Nabucco expresses his allegiance to Jehovah and grants the Jews their freedom. As she dies, Abigaille prays to the God of the Jews for forgiveness.
© Bavarian State Opera
Premiere of Giusepe Verdi's "Nabucco" on January 28, 2008 in the Nationaltheater